Libya: Racists, Bigots And Thieves Prevail

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March 31, 2013: The military has been given $4.7 billion to rebuild the armed forces. Kaddafi spent a lot of money on the military but most of it was wasted because Kaddafi preferred to have incompetent and compliant men running the armed forces. A lot of high tech gear was purchased and never used. There was no one trained to maintain or, in some cases, even operate all these aircraft, ships, and tanks. The new government aims to change that, but first it must replace all the rusting Cold War era relics that Kaddafi used to arm the troops with. Military officials made it clear that they prefer Western equipment, not the Russian stuff that Kaddafi bought so much of.

The government still does not control its southern borders. This is because former (and deceased) Libyan dictator Moamar Kaddafi used tribal loyalties to maintain power and favored certain tribes down there. Although Kaddafi was deposed two years ago, many of the pro-Kaddafi tribes in the south are still fighting. The violence is not so much about putting Kaddafi followers back into power but holding on to Kaddafi era privileges and avoiding punishment for crimes committed to support Kaddafi’s rule. Then there is the racial angle. In the far south the pro-rebel Tabu tribe has been put in charge of border (with Sudan, Chad, and Niger) security. There they constantly skirmish with the pro-Kaddafi Zwai. Another element of this rivalry is that the Tabu are black African while the Zwai are Arab. Kaddafi supported Arab domination over black Arabs, something many Arabs still support and black Africans resent. Add to the mix corruption and politics within the tribes and you get a southern border which is only sporadically guarded. Smugglers, illegal migrants, and terrorists can cross pretty much at will. On the better roads there are often multiple checkpoints, usually with one controlled by Tabu tribesmen, another run by some Zwai, and a third run by soldiers or police from the north. All will accept cash gratuities from travelers and turn away those they don’t like (for any number of reasons).

The basic problem is that the new government has not been able to organize a national police force yet and has depended on local militias to maintain law and order. The government pays some 200,000 militiamen (about eight percent of the total workforce), and being one of these gunmen is an attractive proposition for a young man without much education. The militias are often run by tribal leaders or local warlords, and this causes problems if you send them to help maintain order somewhere else (where they are often seen as tribal invaders). The militia leaders also cause problems, with some of them not passing on all the payroll the government provides. The leaders blame the pay shortfall on the government. Not all the militias are on the government payroll and they operate like criminal gangs to meet their expenses. The Islamic radical militias are causing a lot of popular anger because of efforts to impose restrictive lifestyle rules and attacks on non-Moslems (especially Christians who have lived in Libya for generations). Most of these Christians are Egyptian Copts, and the Egyptian government is angry that their Libyan counterparts have not been able to stop this abuse.

Kaddafi recognized and supported tribal affiliations and these loyalties (to divide potential enemies) and this makes it difficult to establish a workable national government. One asset the government does have is a lot of oil revenue. But the widespread corruption cripples efforts to use that money to build national unity. As the old saying goes, “all politics is local” and is what the government still lacks in the web of tribal connections that Kaddafi used for so long to keep things quiet. This technique eventually failed and the Kaddafi-era ability to keep the tribal leaders quiet is missed.

While many Libyans oppose the militias, these gangs often do things that are popular with most civilians. For example, militiamen hunt down and torture or kill Kaddafi supporters. This sometimes gets very violent, as in the case of Tawergha, a pro-Kaddafi town outside the port city of Misarata that Kaddafi forces fought hard to conquer. In the process thousands of rebels and civilians were killed and much of the city damaged by artillery and street fighting. The Kaddafi forces used Tawergha as their main base and over the last two years militiamen have been destroying that town and forcing its 40,000 largely pro-Kaddafi residents to flee.

Over the last two years the government has been expelling hundreds of thousands of black African migrants, some who have lived and worked in Libya for years. New migrants are being forced back as well, even though these people are seeking to pass through and get to Europe and jobs. This animosity towards black Africans is the result of former dictator Kaddafi hiring thousands of black African mercenaries to help fight the rebels. Add this to the usual racist attitudes of Arab and Berber Libyans (who are most of the population) towards black Africans and you get some nasty immigration policies.

March 30, 2013: A military camp 800 kilometers south of the capital was attacked by several dozen armed men (travelling in eight vehicles). Two soldiers were killed and the attack was repulsed. It’s unclear what this was all about, although the camp still contains warehouses full of Kaddafi era weapons and ammo.

March 28, 2013: In Tripoli Sunni extremists bombed a Sufi shrine. Sunni Islamic radicals have been attacking local Sufi Moslems with increasing ferocity for over a year. In some cases Sunni gunmen attempting to destroy Sufi shrines are repulsed by armed Sufis. So now the Sunni Islamic terrorists sneak around at night planting bombs. The Sufis have called on the national government for help. But the government has been reluctant to confront the Islamic radicals, despite the growing number of attacks on Sufi shrines, schools, and mosques in the last year. Ever since the fall of Kaddafi two years ago, the Islamic radical militias have been attacking Sufi shrines, first in Tripoli and then in eastern Libya. The Sufi, like the Shia (and many similar groups), are minority Islamic sects that conservative factions among the majority Sunni consider heretical. This often leads to violence, as it has for decades in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al Qaeda, and similar groups, are particularly active in going after "heretical" Moslems. The heretics often fight back, and most Moslems do not back the radicals. The government is trying to avoid a battle between Islamic radicals and the rest of the population, lest Libya suffer what Iraq, Pakistan, and Iran are going through.

March 27, 2013: Three British women accused Libyan militiamen of briefly kidnapping and raping (or fondling, it’s unclear which) them. The three were British citizens but of Pakistani ancestry, so both the British and Pakistani ambassadors demanded that the Libyan government do something. This all began when a convoy of ten trucks from Britain, carrying medical supplies for Gaza, was stopped at the Egyptian border by Egyptian police. Egypt does not like the foreign activists coming in like this to support the Islamic terrorist group Hamas that runs Gaza. The three women had left the convoy (with two male companions) and headed for the Benghazi airport to fly back to Britain when they were attacked. The militiamen often do what they like but it only becomes a big news story when foreigners are involved.

March 26, 2013: In the south fifty men escaped from a prison after a riot there distracted the guards. One prisoner was shot dead during the escape and 13 others were quickly captured.

March 21, 2013: Member of parliament Hassan El Amin has fled the country (for Britain) because of growing threats from Islamic radical militias. Amin was the head of the human rights committee in parliament and had criticized the Islamic radical militias for using violence against political and religious opponents. While other outspoken members of parliament have a lot of bodyguards and often the backing of a tribal or political militia, Amin had neither.

March 17, 2013: One of the men (Faraj al Shibli) believed responsible for leading (or planning) the Benghazi attack last September that killed the American ambassador was arrested and charged with that crime. The attack was planned and carried out by one of the Islamic terrorist militias, and since then the government has been trying to muster the determination and firepower necessary to go after those responsible for the attack.

March 14, 2013: A Christian (Egyptian Coptic) church in Benghazi was attacked again by Islamic radicals. The first attack occurred last month.

March 11, 2013: Over a hundred local men blockaded an oil field south of Benghazi and halted production of 120,000 barrels of oil (and lots of natural gas) a day until the government hired more local men to work at the field. A deal was finally worked out on March 28th and production resumed. The job disputes are usually over who will be hired to provide security. Foreigners handle most of the technical jobs because few Libyans are qualified for this work. But security is another matter and rival militias battle each other and whoever the current oil field security people are to obtain these jobs. 

 

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